This paper analyzes the institution of “scientific forestry” in the northern borderlands (“Frontier”) of British India c. 1850–1940. Using archival material from the India Office Records (IOR), the paper traces the extension of colonial forest policies from the plains to the inaccessible parts of the Indus River and its tributaries. The paper demonstrates that “scientific forestry” was an early conservation narrative claiming to preserve forest – but in reality had a long lasting and, often devastating impact on forest resources. While “scientific forestry” was gradually implemented in the more distant parts of the “Frontier” – an idiom for the northern borderlands of British India – they passed over the lateral valleys along the main Indus gorge where large expanses of forest remained hidden from the Imperial gaze. By virtue of their inaccessibility they emerged unscathed from a century of intense forest prospecting and exploitation. Thus only in those areas where “scientific forestry” could not be implemented was pristine forest preserved.
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